Mulder, you could have shown that kid a picture of a flying hamburger, and he would have told you that’s exactly what he saw.
1.2: Deep Throat
Possibly the defining X-Files episode, getting to grips as Deep Throat does with government conspiracy rather than merely, or mostly, the local one depicted in the Pilot. Which makes it notable how perfunctory the hook that gets Mulder investigating the case is, and how much of a shrug Deep Throat’s solution turns out to be. This is very much a case of the journey being the thing, however, rather than the destination.
Deep Throat: What is your interest?
Mulder: The truth.
Mulder drags Scully to Idaho to investigate missing test pilot Colonel Budahas (Andrew Johnston), against the advice of new deep-state benefactor Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin). The episode offers additional conspiracy lore to the Pilot, most particularly in the form of unidentified aircraft that may or may not be alien inspired. There are references to the Aurora spy plane and Roswell (including a triangular UFO photographed there, by the prop department). The base itself is evidently a substitute for Area 51/Nellis Air Force Base.
Scully: Is this why we are out here, Mulder? To look for UFOs?
There’s also a variant on MKUltra when we witness (partially) the punitive measures taken when civilians, even FBI civilians, stray into military matters (interestingly, a real air force base was used for some scenes, which one might argue automatically invalidates any accuracy in the material). The case for the defence is given by military guy and fake journalist Paul Mossinger (Michael Bryan French) when he is unrepentant at the treatment inflicted on Mulder (it’s a bit of a stretch that we’re supposed to believe Mossinger wouldn’t call Scully’s bluff when she has him at gun point): “Everything you’ve seen here is equal to the protection we give it. It’s you who have acted inappropriately”.
Deep Throat: Your lives may be in danger.
Deep Throat: Mmm, you’ve seen things that weren’t to be seen. Care and discretion are now imperative.
Budahas, it turns out, hasn’t gone missing due to abduction or anything similarly tasty. Rather, Mulder concludes he, and presumably other pilots who have gone missing, has proved physiologically incapably of dealing with the stress of flying the classified aircraft (Mulder is of the view they are planes “built using UFO technology”). Consequently, the only confirmation beyond Mulder’s own biases in the episode comes from Deep Throat. But even then, one might take his “Mr Mulder, they’ve been here for a long, long time” to be flexible. On top of which, it goes back to the idea that, even if the government believes that’s what they’re dealing with – rather than, say, knowingly creating a psyop to add to all the other psyops obfuscating our reality – it doesn’t necessarily mean that is what they’re dealing with. It’s always possible that the deceivers are themselves deceived.
Deep Throat: Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial life on this earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?
Mulder: Because all the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive.
Deep Throat: Precisely.
Mulder: They’re here, aren’t they?
Deep Throat: Mr Mulder, they’ve been here for a long, long time.
It’s easy to forget what a welcome and tonally formidable presence Jerry Hardin was in his half-dozen Season One appearances (death didn’t prevent Deep Throat from appearing four more times). Unlike Stephen Williams’ decidedly gruff and aggressive X, Deep Throat is a decidedly benign presence, very much Mulder’s Obi Wan – and referenced as such at one point, albeit not in complimentary terms – although he’s very cryptic in his vision for Mulder’s future mission (“Leave this alone, Agent Mulder. The military will not tolerate an FBI investigation… You are exposing yourself and Agent Scully to unnecessary risk… You have much work to do…. don’t jeopardise the future of your own efforts”). He’s there to steer Mulder’s agenda.
Scully: Mulder, are you suggesting the military is flying UFOs?
Mulder: No, planes, built using UFO technology.
Whereas the meat of the episode comes from Mulder trying to set it, often to the amusement of Scully (who is a very winning rationalist here, as opposed to an increasingly exasperated and exasperating one). Their encounter with Emil (Seth Green) and Zoe (Llainia Linbjerg) shows a deft comic touch on Chris Carter’s part (much as I will complain about various of his later efforts, he’s very surefooted in his writing at this early stage). Mulder’s “Later, dude!” when they drop the kids off, having digested their views on the nature of the base’s light show – “Okay, everybody thinks that they’re like UFOs, but I think it’s some kind of Star Wars, cybertech, new-fangled hardware, right?” – is only matched by Scully’s undisguised disbelief that he should take Emil seriously. (My favourite amusing moment, though, is Mulder opening the door to Scully after seeing her running across the road to give him some news: “You didn’t come to raid my minibar, did you?”)
Man: Please, step out of the car.
Mulder (to Scully): Do you think if maybe we ignore him, he’ll go away?
This isn’t so much an episode – as I’ve suggested – where the specific mystery needs solving as it is one where the mere fact of its concealment is sufficient. The constant threats to Scully offer the unlikely emphasis that the FBI agents are outsiders, not really the government, since the real government are the military, aggressively covering things up. There’s phone tapping (Watergate/the All the President’s Men Deep Throat), and military roadblocks, and being told to get out of town. And then, when Mulder brazenly heads off alone onto the base – and witnesses a much-sought UFO – he is subjected to torture and has his memory of the experience zapped. It thus firmly establishes Mulder, if there was any lingering doubt, as one of us and who is only nominally part of the establishment. It doesn’t matter that his confirmation bias essentially informs every revelation the series gives us, because he wants that truth out there somewhere.
Scully: You believe it all, don’t you?
Mulder: Why wouldn’t I?
There are no big performances here. Green makes the most of a stoner type; he has, of course, gone full circle, conspiracy-wise, from Buffy, to this, to Scott Evil, to Buffy, to Enemy of the State, to Robot Chicken, to forever being entwined with the fate of Isaac Kappy. Hardin gives the whole thing gravitas. French is very plausible as a nice guy turned not so nice guy (you don’t doubt him, until you do). Gabrielle Rose is sympathetic as the wife of Budahas who gets got to.
Mulder: Tell me I’m crazy.
Scully: Mulder, you’re crazy.
What’s notable about this case with a “certain paranormal bouquet” is that it continues the noncommittal tiptoeing of the series thus far; in Deep Throat, hearsay and subjectivity lead the way. Series Two would dive headlong into alien bounty hunters (still something, in retrospect, I doubt they’d have done if they’d both been sober the night Duchovny suggested it to Carter). Here, we’ve had strange happenings in woods (a perennial) and secret government projects (never any doubt). Little green men and making the implied tangible are some way off.